Japan is known for their numerous festivals that occur throughout the year. There are 5 significant annual festivals in Japan, also called the gosekku (五節句), or the five seasonal festivals in English. These five seasonal festivals are held from the first day of the January to the ninth day of September every year. These 5 festivals are respectively:
- New Year Festivals on January 1
- Hina Matsuri on March 3
- Children’s Day on May 5
- Tanabata on July 7
- Chrysanthemum Festival on September 9
Hina Matsuri, the second in line, is what we are going to focus on today. Hina Matsuri is also called the Doll Festival or Girl’s Day, it has the primary purpose of celebrating young girls as well as the heralding of early spring.
(Picture from Moriyama Sport Centre)
The name “Hina Matsuri” (雛祭り) originates from the word “hina” meaning “doll” and “matsuri” meaning “festival.” Aside from the other names that we have mentioned, Hina Matsuri has another less-common name as well, which is the “Momo no Sekku,” or “Peach Festival.”
The festival itself traces back to the Edo Period (1603 – 1868) and was originally held to celebrate the blooming of peach trees in early spring.
The dolls, on the other hand, were derived from the traditional paper toys called “Hitogata,” and were gradually transformed into the dolls that we see now. They were also originally displayed in households with the purpose of removing evil spirits from the house and bring good luck.
Hina Matsuri has a lot of other meanings and blessings aside from removing evil spirits. For example, the blooming of the peach trees represents the growth of female children and the display of the dolls inside the house is said to bring charms and good health to girls.
Aside from those two, the exhibition of the Hina dolls also has the purpose of offering gratitude to the Gods for giving female children to a family.
Traditions and Celebration
(Picture from Musashiya Stone)
According to Japanese traditions, Japanese families will bring out dolls dressed in full traditional attire, and display them on a stair-styled platform from the middle of February until March 3rd. The Hina dolls are dressed in different styles and placed in their proper location according to their titles.
The first ladder is for two male and female dolls that represent the emperor and the empress, with a golden screen placed behind them. The second stair and all along the top stairs consist of servants with different ranks, including the three ladies-in-waiting to serve the emperor, five male musicians, guards, children and other ornaments including food trays, an orange tree, a peach tree, and other props.
The stairs have around 5 to 7 levels, depending on the household. There is also a tradition to release the paper dolls to the rivers when Hina Matsuri comes in order to carry away any misfortune.
Since the Hina dolls are usually expensive, each household generally passes them down from generation to generation. Some households may choose to pass a set of dolls to their daughters when she gets married to prepare for the next generation.
Meanwhile, other households may display smaller sizes of Hina dolls which consist of only the emperor and the empress as it is far more affordable and easier to store after the festival ends. Japanese tradition believes that they must put away the Hina dolls as soon as the festival ends, or else their daughter will not be able to get married for a long time.